Cataloguing in Gippsland

Musings of a Cataloguer at Large in Gippsland. Just personal thoughts - absolutely no bearing on the thoughts of any organisation with which I am working.

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Location: Victoria, Australia

Friday, May 25, 2012

Which Way to Go?

This is going to be a long post, so maybe you need to make a cuppa and settle in. 
(Any excuse for a photo - miniature souvenir teapot, Maffra Sugarbeet Museum)

I have previously pointed to Vicky's post about online databases, but feel the time has come to post in more detail about Victorian Collections. I have been cataloguing using InMagic since 1992, and use it with the two collections that I currently administer. With it I administer a total of over 7,200 items - one collection I worked with for five years had over 8,000 items. So I have given DB textworks/InMagic a fair workout. And I am totally committed to it. Before it closed to new collections, I loaded the large collection, with photos, to CAN (Collections Australia Network).

When Victorian Collections arrived in 2010, I welcomed it, as somewhere that I would be able to load these catalogues, while still working with InMagic to administer them. That has not yet happened, and it is difficult to see how it can happen, as the VC structure is so different to earlier version of the Victorian Cataloguing Manual - which is also part of the problem. I am firmly rooted in the 2nd Edition, while VC are based on the 4th edn. (There is a lot wrong in the 4th edn, and VC has inherited that problem)  I have just added a few fields to suit as I went along, such as Significance. I still hope uploads will happen, but am less hopeful. Even then, I have been told that any uploads will be "one-off", with the implication that I will then manage my collection on Victorian Collections. That is not going to happen, as InMagic is so vastly superior to manage a collection that I would be mad to abandon it. Hopefully, I will write a post soon on why it is so much better.

So, where does that leave me with Victorian Collections? I have joined one collection, am waiting for the other to be approved, and am happily learning it by myself, as the training course here was cancelled due to a lack of numbers. Hopefully the one in July will get off the ground. As I am fully committed to being part of Victorian Collections by individually entering a number of significant items. Such as the teapot above.

All-in-all it is a rather sad situation. If there had been better consultation for the 4th edition of the Catalogue Manual (I don't think there was any, which is quite easy in these days of electronic communication) some of the problems would not have happened. There are still a lot of problems with Victorian Collections (such as searches of keywords/tags are case sensitive!) that need ironing out. Another horror is that the maker (photographer, artist, author, as well as more traditional manufacturers) is not even a public field. The whole thing needs a rigourous advisory committee of experienced cataloguers from community museums, and I don't see any evidence of that. The whole project has one very much travelled and hard-working manager who is excellent to deal with, supported with some time from Museum Victoria IT staff, but not a lot of consultation seems to have taken place.

It is time for that to happen.

PS if you have got this far, and feel a need to talk to other Victorian cataloguers, there is now a Yahoo group called Computers and Cataloguing to take over from the one at MC2 when that closes in a short time. Some discussion on the future of cataloguing would be good.

PS2 - Needless to say, any opinions expressed here are totally my own, and are not those of any collection with which I work.


Blogger Essendonian said...

Thank you for continuing the discussion, Linda. It is important for cataloguing to be moving forward in a co-operative and integrated manner. Apart from the capacity to have an online catalogue, Victorian Collections has not actually enhanced collection management, but in fact has reduced capacity to manage a collection than the DBTextworks software that many small museums are now using. (And I love the little teapot.)

May 25, 2012 at 5:56 PM  
Blogger Wal said...

Hello Linda,
Still following this blog and have joined 'Computers and Cataloguing'- hope to learn and contribute!

May 25, 2012 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

Thank you Essie and Wal. Good to see you here Wal - are you actually using a cataloguing program?

And Essie - yes, I agree. There needs to be discussion about how cataloguing can move forward in a co-operative and integrated way.

May 26, 2012 at 12:58 AM  
Anonymous Peta said...

Thank you for your kind words about my work with Victorian Collections project but I do feel obliged to amend some of your comments.

Victorian Collections never claimed that it could be used alongside another cataloguing system. The first priority of VC was to create a free cataloguing system for organisations that had nothing. Over the last two years we have had increasing demand from organisations wanting to upload existing catalogues so they can 'transfer' to Victorian Collections. It is still planned to have a one-off upload of existing catalogues into Victorian Collections but first the catalogues will have to be formatted appropriately in an excel spreadsheet. Plenty of notice will be given when this opportunity arises.

It is pointless to compare VC and InMagic, they are two different beasts. VC is aimed at organisations who are after a free, easy-to-use system that may not have 20 years of cataloguing experience and cannot afford the 4 figured sum for other systems. While InMagic has many features that VC does not have, this does not make VC inferior to InMagic. These two systems are aimed at different target audiences.

Both the 4th edition of the Small Museums Cataloguing Manual and Victorian Collections have been created with the Collecting Community in mind. Drawing on decades of experience, the 4th Edition was produced according to the perceived needs at the time and according to the National Standards for Museums and Galleries. The community wanted a streamlined, simple cataloguing worksheet and easy to understand manual. As a newcomer to Victorian Collections you may not have been aware of the extensive consultation that has taken place since September 2010. There continues to be a register of suggested improvements to VC as made by the users themselves. It is for this reason that we have a valuation section (various groups), option of ‘presented’ for donation option for indigenous items (Bunjil Park). The most recent of these recommendations is to change ‘maker’s details’ to be public (Maffra Sugarbeet Museum). We also had an external evaluation done of the website and training program by Sweet Technologies in 2011.

It is wonderful to have Maffra Sugarbeet Museum and Stratford Historical Museum joining the 165 other Victorian Collections organisations. I look forward to your involvement at the workshop in Sale

May 28, 2012 at 12:21 AM  
Blogger Linda said...

Hello Peta,

Firstly, it is good to be able to have some public discussion, and see material go on the record. It really would be good though, if there was a public forum where it could be discussed without anyone feeling they are being personally attacked.

I do think it needs to be said, as far as I can see, Victorian Collections is not free, and it is not simple. The software is free, but requires an internet account and probably a phone connection. I cannot see how you can manage a collection without access to the catalogue at the collection, so the money for them has to come from somewhere. And if you can afford that, you can afford an external hard drive for backup, or a couple of flash drives, so it doesn’t seem to me a point in favour of Victorian Collections is that it provides backup for those who cannot afford it.

Secondly, it is a debatable point to say that it is simple, when there are currently more fields than in the 2nd edition of the cataloguing manual, and that is even with some that I consider essential no longer there.

However I do think it is a simple (and good) way to put a selection of items on the internet.

If such a collected assembly of wisdom compiled the 4th edn manual, why are there so many mistakes in it? In a personal reply to me, you describe them as people “working with” community museums, and this is precisely my point. It needed consultation with cataloguers working IN community museums, not a top-down “solution” being delivered, but genuine consultation with those using the system. In a time of electronic transmission of data, this would not have been so difficult. However it happened, before your time, so we move on. The thing to do is see that changes are not lightly made without consultation or discussion.

I am glad there is ongoing evaluation. There appears to be an unexpectedly high number of organisations who register but do not go on to make entries. I am wondering if evaluation included asking these organisations why they have not proceeded further with entering items, and if they have been asked, what sorts of issues do they raise?

Finally, I was wondering what the term “small collections” means to you? As I am aware you have visited at least one institution with a number of paid staff. Do you mean an organisation with less than five paid employees, as I have seen some museum designate them small museums? Or with less than 5,000 items? Or is there no definition at all? It does seem to mean various things to various people.

Again, it is good to have discussion, and I see Victorian Collections as a useful way for collections, no matter how you define their size, to upload a number of items to better display their collection, and make information about it available. And I appreciate the vast amount of work that you have put into it.

May 29, 2012 at 5:31 AM  

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